Quarterly Publication of the
National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota, Inc.
100 East 22nd Street
Minneapolis, Minnesota 55404
Voice: (612) 872-9363
Tom Scanlan, Editor
Volume 79, Number 4, Fall 2013
WE ARE CHANGING
WHAT IT MEANS
TO BE BLIND
Table of Contents
Another very busy summer seemed to go by in a flash this year and saw much accomplishment.
The summer residential programs at Blindness: Learning in New Dimensions (BLIND) Inc. helped bring new skills and new perspectives to the blind youth who attended, and now the adult students have moved into a new apartment complex.
We held a successful Walk for Opportunity in Rochester on September 7, bringing in much needed contributions and bringing visibility to our organization (not to mention getting many of us some great exercise). Quite a number of people participated for the first time this year, some of whom were not blind but were very interested to learn about blind people and what we do in our organization.
As we are just at the beginning of Meet the Blind Month, so proclaimed by Governor Dayton and by several mayors around the state, and all over the nation, I reflect on recent images of blindness in the mainstream media and how much work there is to do to make known the truth about blindness.
We were saddened recently to learn of the passing of Dr. Abraham Nemeth, the inventor of the braille code for mathematics and science notation that is in widespread use in the United States and some other nations. Many of us remember his excellent contributions to one of our parents' seminars here in Minnesota several years ago. His very interesting life story appeared in the media and shows that blind people can be quite resourceful, can lead full and rich lives, and can do significant things that are truly worthy of news coverage.
Unfortunately, it is all too common for items to get into the news that not only foster misconceptions about blindness, but also, upon close examination, are not really news at all. Not long ago, right here in Hopkins Minnesota, an incident happened at a Dairy Queen and got quite a bit of media exposure. A blind person dropped a $20 bill without noticing it while paying for his order and someone behind him swiped it off the ground. A manager saw it happen but was unable to convince the thief to give the money back, so he kicked her out of the store and gave the blind person the $20 out of his own money. Another customer witnessed this occurrence, and wrote a letter of compliment to Dairy Queen. The subsequent news stories emphasized the kindness and generosity of the manager. Certainly this was a kind and generous thing to do, and surely, had the robbed customer been sighted (after all, sighted people do drop things and are swindled, too), the same kindness would have been extended, right? It is a question worth contemplating. Also, if the customer had been sighted and the generous manager had given the $20, would this incident have made the news? That seems highly doubtful.
Another un-news item occurred during the terrible shooting in the DC Navy yard. A story appeared about a "hero" who led a blind man out of a building to safety. Apparently, the two colleagues were having a meeting, and when they heard the shots, the blind man took the sighted man's arm and they headed out. Of course, it is very glad news indeed that these two and many others survived that horrendous event. Also, it is a good thing when people treat one another well in a world where we can always use more courtesy and respect. However, a story of two very fortunate souls who escaped a dangerous situation was turned into a story of a dependent blind person being protected by a hero. This assumes too much, and it is not a stretch to say that it is yet one more reason why blind people are presumed not to be able to be responsible for our own safety, much less that of others.
Speaking of guns, many likely noted the media storm over the gun laws in Iowa that do not prevent blind people from owning guns. The National Federation of the Blind takes absolutely no position on gun rights or gun control. However, when the portrayals in the media say that we who are blind are categorically less responsible than anybody else and even places us in the same class with demonstrated criminals, we must say something. So many of the same kinds of fears are used to say that we cannot be responsible for raising or teaching children, or cooking, or working with power tools. The fact is that sight or the lack of it is not connected with ability to understand safety requirements, to know and observe the laws, or to use judgment. The National Federation of the Blind released a press release, and several of us in Minnesota called in to provide our perspective when this issue was discussed at length on WCCO radio.
National Public Radio aired a story a couple of months ago about beep baseball. The story discussed how things have evolved over the years, how blind people's participation in sports is more accepted and the sports are less restricted. I always find myself a bit worried while listening to such stories, hoping that they will be a positive portrayal that does not show us either as "inspirational" or as pitiful. This beep baseball story went along rather well for a while. Then, an audio clip was played of a person congratulating a teammate on a hit, after which the sighted people pointed out that someone else made the hit. This was meant to give an example of the humor and camaraderie of the team, but to me it seemed to undermine the story, once again making sure everyone remembers that such goof-ups are an essential feature of blindness. This and the above-mentioned may seem like just a lot of pickiness, but the list of such things goes on and on, and they add up to create the perceptions that we must work against in order to have opportunities and live successful lives.
Fortunately, we do have this organization, which works hard to have the public at large know the truth about blindness, to meet real blind people, and to understand that we are a cross-section of society just as are those who are not blind. People need us to meet them, through the pages of this bulletin but especially in person in our communities. We have our work cut out for us, but we have a strong community and many resources. This Meet the Blind Month, and every month, let us redouble our efforts.
The National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota is an organization focused on consumer advocacy for blind people and promoting a positive philosophy of blindness. We are also a family. Here is a column that we print from time to time, containing items that would not normally be sent out on our membership listserv but which are noteworthy and of interest to members. Did you or a Federationist you know get a new job? Go on a major trip? Win an award? Have a child? Something else important to you? If you have news you would like shared in this column, send it to the Bulletin editor, Tom Scanlan, and he will pass it along. Here’s the news since our last issue:
We know of at least four Federationists who, after long job searches, have begun or will soon begin new employment opportunities. We congratulate Ben Moser, Pat Barrett, Melody Wartenbee, and Susie D'mello.
At this writing, Michele Gittens has just completed the Camino de Santiago, a three-week religious pilgrimage involving walking 158 miles from France to Spain. We look forward to hearing more about this challenging adventure.
If we have missed any noteworthy news here, please send it along for the next column!
By Lori Peglow
Message from the CMC President
I would like to share with you an analogy/illustration that may be very apropos for many of us. First, however, let me share a portion of Old Testament history with you. The Children of Israel were in Babylon. They thought their nation of Israel was gone. They saw themselves as merely existing, and felt little hope.
The prophet Ezekiel, in chapter 37:1-14 shared a vision with them. The vision was of a valley of dry bones. As the vision continued, the dry bones were connected; they were fleshed out with muscle, tendons, and covered with skin. Finally, the Lord breathed life into them. In this message from Ezekiel, the people were reassured that the nation of Israel would be re-established. They would again be a people with a mission, and God’s Spirit would again rest upon them (37:10, 14). In and with the power of God’s Word, and once again recognizing and acknowledging God’s presence they would find life and hope. And that dear friends is what we need to do as well; to look to God’s Word and there find life and hope. God’s powerful Word is able to accomplish the miracle of giving life to dead, dry bones! He does not leave us to fend for ourselves, or devise our own strategies.
A friend of mine, the other day shared a story that I feel is very fitting for us as blind people. He was moving a rather heavy box in his garage and underneath it was a small squashed dry sponge, hard and brittle. Amazingly, when he placed it in a pail and began to add some water, the sponge began to soak up that needed moisture and began to expand and “come alive again.” Sometimes when we are experiencing life’s problems, like blindness, we might feel like that sponge, all squashed and dry — hard and brittle. But when God splashes on us the water of life, we can again feel wet and alive!
Sometimes, when you and I hear the pronouncement of blindness, we feel that meaningful life is gone. We exist and lack hope for the future. It is in those times we need to be reassured of God’s presence. We need to direct our energies towards what we can do, rather than focus on what we cannot do. With God’s help, and with the support and encouragement of others, we again can see life, and feel alive. There are many resources out there, such as the NFB, State Services for the Blind and St. Cloud Workforces to help us in that journey. We can learn new skills, develop our talents and abilities, and life can be meaningful for us again.
The journey is a process, but each step on that journey is a step towards our development and growth. May God be with each one of us, as we work with the persons and resources He provides for us. God Bless!
Rev. Ron Mahnke
Meet Members of the CMCNFB
Bev Stavrum has been a member of the CMNFB for over three years. She is also the secretary for the chapter. Bev and her husband Bob live in the Clearwater area. They have a son, Robert Jr. and a daughter, Isabella. Bev and Bob have also been raising foster children for over seven years.
Bev and her family attend St. Luke’s church in Clearwater. Bev is also a member on the NFB of Minnesota board of directors. She attends the State annual, semi-annual and the National NFB conventions. Bev and her family have been instrumental in organizing and working the annual brat sales in the St. Cloud and Clearwater area that raise funds for the CMNFB chapter.
In 1997, Bev was diagnosed with a rare eye disease called angloid streaks, and was declared legally blind. Bev and her family enjoy camping and raising foster kids. Another of her hobbies is that Bev loves to read. Bev gets many books each month from the Braille and Talking Book Library in Faribault. She also has both the audio and the CD players from the Library that help her with her reading. Bev also uses JAWS and Zoom Text on her computer. She uses a CCTV for magnifying print.
Bev’s advice for people who are sight impaired is to get connected with a support system. There are a number of agencies and avenues of support such as the State Services for the Blind and the NFB, including your local chapters of the NFB.
These organizations help blind people connect with other blind people.
We want to ask that you remember Ron Mahnke over the next few weeks. Ron suffered a fall early in the summer. He has had surgery and has been at Good Samaritan recovering and having physical therapy. Ron hopes to be discharged soon.
Virden Memorial Scholarship
We want to remind you that the Andy Virden Memorial Scholarship is available. A $1,000 scholarship will be awarded to a student attending St. Cloud State University who is involved in community service and is visually impaired or the child of a visually impaired parent. To inquire about the scholarship, please contact Robert Beumer at SCSU at 320-308-3716.
To make a contribution to the scholarship fund visit www.stcloudstate.edu/foundation/waystogive.
By Helen Stevens
On September 14, the Metro Chapter held a seminar on Social Security at the NFB of Minnesota headquarters. Approximately 25 people attended, many of whom were new to the NFB. Chapter President Rob Hobson gave a welcome and introduction, and NFB of Minnesota President Jennifer Dunnam spoke briefly about the NFB and its purpose and activities. Cindy Lien, a member of the NFB of Minnesota and retired Social Security Claims Representative, and two employees of the Minnesota Work Incentives Connection gave the main presentations. The seminar lasted for almost two hours, and covered a variety of topics related to Social Security and employment. A summary of the content presented at the seminar follows.
Two programs exist through which blind people can obtain income from the government: Supplemental Security Income and Social Security Disability Insurance. The two programs have different eligibility requirements, and different rules governing how additional income affects the benefit amount.
Supplemental Security Income (SSI) serves people with few financial assets. An individual must have less than $2,000, and a couple less than $3,000, in assets to qualify. While a home does not count toward this limit, any investments and savings do. A person who receives SSI can receive up to $710 from the federal government in monthly support, along with additional state benefits. The exact amount of income depends on a person's living situation, as well as any additional income the person earns.
Working always increases the monthly income of a blind person on SSI. The first $65 earned per month does not affect SSI at all. After this point, each two dollars earned results in the loss of one dollar of SSI. A wide range of deductions can decrease the amount of income that counts against the SSI payment. Potential deductions may include, but are not limited to, transportation expenses, guide dog expenses, uniform costs, taxes paid, union dues, and meal expenses while at work. One should always discuss income and expenses in detail with a Social Security representative to see what can affect benefits. A recipient must report all income to the Social Security Administration, and should always keep pay stubs and receipts for anything claimed as a deduction. A decrease in benefits as a result of income will be reflected in the SSI payment two months later.
Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) is a program for people who have worked in the past. The amount of SSDI a person receives is based on his or her previous income while working and the amount of taxes paid into the system. Unlike other disabilities, a blind person's eligibility is determined by how much he or she has worked, regardless of how long ago the work occurred. Assets are not taken into account when determining SSDI eligibility; a person may have unlimited savings. A person's income is taken into account. At present, the earnings limit for blind individuals is $1,740 per month; this limit is higher for blind individuals as compared to those in other disability categories.
Unlike SSI, where income gradually affects how much support is received, SSDI income is lost entirely once the earnings limit is reached. There are programs such as the "trial work period" that allow a person to earn more for up to a year without losing benefits, but one must check to see if this is a possibility based on work and income history. As with SSI, certain expenses can be deducted to remain below the earnings limit. The deductions possible are more limited than those available for SSI and must be employment expenses that a non-disabled worker would not need to pay such as expenses related to a guide dog, fees for reader services not covered by an employer, and access technology not provided by the employer. One should discuss expenses with a Social Security representative to determine what might qualify. Anyone receiving SSDI must report changes in income to Social Security, as well as hold on to pay stubs and receipts for work expenses.
For more information on Social Security, visit the Social Security Administration website at www.socialsecurity.gov or call 1-800-772-1213. The Braille Monitor publishes updates on changes to Social Security, including updates on cost of living increases and any changes to earnings limits. Both NFB of Minnesota and the Minnesota Work Incentives Connection can assist those who receive a notification from Social Security regarding an over-payment. The National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota can be reached at 612-872-9363. The Minnesota Work Incentives Connection can also meet with individuals to discuss specific circumstances, how income would be affected by a change in employment, and provide information on other state and county financial aid programs; they can be reached at 651-632-5113.
By Shawn Mayo
(Editor’s Note: Shawn is executive director of Blindness: Learning in New Dimensions (BLIND) and an active member of the NFB of Minnesota Metro Chapter.)
One of the most interesting phenomena found in nature is mutualistic symbiosis. This phenomenon occurs when two or more species develop a relationship that benefits all parties involved. For example, butterflies burrow into flowers to get at their nectar and while so doing pollinate the flower with the traces of pollen they have brought along from the last flower they visited. Both species get something that they vitally need. The butterfly gets the sustenance it needs to fly freely through the world, and by contributing nectar, the flowers get the opportunity to propagate themselves in another generation. It is truly a win-win situation.
On average, after three to four months of NFB-style comprehensive adjustment-to-blindness training, it is common to hear a student say, “Blind people can do anything sighted people can do.” This is a wonderful thing to hear, and when I hear a student make a statement like this, I know that student is on his or her way to independence. However, the fact that the student can make this general statement is only the first step. This often becomes apparent when that student begins looking at what she or he is going to do after leaving the program. This is when the difference between the theoretical blind person and the flesh-and-bone blind person becomes clear, the difference between “a blind person can get a job” and “I can get a job.”
Whether blind people, or people generally, reach their full potential and attain the career and life goals commensurate with their skills and passions depends on a combination of belief and desire. They must believe truly that they can attain the goal. This belief sets the desired goal in the realm of possibility, making it something that could happen rather than something that could never happen. However, in order to turn that possibility into a reality, a person must have enough desire to achieve the goal that he or she is willing to put forth the amount of effort needed: the time, sweat, and tears to climb over whatever obstacles lie between the person and the goal.
One might argue that you can’t teach desire. This is true. You can’t make a person want something; however, you can remove the fear that often blocks the path of that desire. This can be achieved by mentoring. Having a real, live, breathing person sitting there talking about the raise he or she just got, the fetal pig he or she just dissected, taking his or her three-year-old to see Santa at the mall, or building a new deck on the house, can put all kinds of ideas in a person’s head. But not only can a mentor put an idea in a student’s head, that mentor can explain in detail what it took to accomplish those goals.
So many misconceptions about the day-to-day life of a blind person are loose in the world that it is impossible to know which particular set has found its way into each student’s mind. Some of these misconceptions might seem to the student so silly or so particular that he or she will never articulate them. They can often mutate into abstract fears that prevent a blind person from letting desire propel him or her toward the goal. The student might be thinking, “I would really love that job, but what if I go into the interview and they see I have a cane, and they tell me the job has been filled. I don’t think I could deal with that.” However, when a mentor can say to a Center student, “Yeah, I had 20 interviews before I got my job, and some days it was really hard to keep trying, but in the end it was all worthwhile,” or “The professor really didn’t want a blind guy in her class, but this is what I told her.” Fears about problems he or she might face are replaced by real situations with real solutions.
Mentoring can be integrated into an adjustment-to-blindness program in any of three ways: employing competent, well-adjusted blind people in all areas of the organization from the support staff to the executive director, developing an alumni network, and involving an active chapter of the National Federation of the Blind that has members willing to spend time with Center students. Center staff members who are blind give students a daily reminder that blind people do work and have personal and social lives. Students see blind people every day who travel across the country, raise children, take graduate classes, pursue hobbies, etc. Then they have the opportunity to ask questions about how exactly they do what they do. While this form of mentoring is essential and irreplaceable, it isn’t quite enough. There is something invaluable about having mentors around who are not paid to be there. This is not to say that anyone would work for a Federation Center solely for monetary benefit (they are called nonprofits for a reason), but rather to say that it makes an impact when people choose to give their free time to share what they themselves have received.
Also, neither going through Federation-style training nor leaving a Center is an easy time of life. The support, reassurance, and friendship a mentor provides make an enormous difference and can remove the barriers of fear and separation that keep some blind people from realizing their dreams. An alumnus mentor can sympathize with the stress and frustrations of training while proving to the student that these stresses and frustrations are temporary and conquerable. A chapter member mentor can teach the student about the history of the organized blind movement and show her or him the progress that has been made and the work that still needs to be done.
The key element in the development of successful mentoring is that these three groups overlap. Center staff should ideally be alumni and should always be NFB chapter members. Alumni, when they receive the support and encouragement of chapter members during their training, will want to become chapter members themselves. Chapter members, when they see the benefits of Federation-style training, will want to make sure that they have the skills and self-confidence that they need, and they then become alumni.
This overlap provides a network that both supports individual blind people and strengthens the organized blind movement. It allows us not only to survive but also to thrive. It enables Center staff, alumni, and chapter members to form a mutualistic symbiotic relationship that goes beyond mutual benefits to change the lives of blind people profoundly and permanently. It gives blind people the support they need to make it through the challenging process of becoming an independent and successful member of society while ensuring that this support will continue to be there for future generations. It both fills the landscape with vibrant and resilient flowers and gives people who thought they would spend the rest of their lives on the ground the strength they need to fly. It is truly a win-win situation for everyone involved
By Chris Kuell
One of the better aspects of losing my job along with my sight is that I get to spend more time with my kids. Every morning, I walk them the half-mile to school, and I return in the afternoon to accompany them home. During our walks, they tell me about their days, who got in trouble, who likes whom, and how a kid named Brian always cheats at kick-ball.
We live in an old neighborhood, and along my route there are a dozen homes with bushes planted near the sidewalk. While there are several varieties, they all inevitably grow outwards, eager for the opportunity to snag an unobservant pedestrian. At the beginning of every school year, I bring a pair of clippers with me as I drop the kids off, and on my way home, I help those who are too busy to trim their bushes.
One house has a huge rhododendron bush, which must be decades old. Tall and thick, branches hang over the sidewalk like a canopy. When it’s blooming, the fragrance is unmistakable, and I’m sure it’s quite beautiful.
Now, I’m about five foot eleven, and I could feel the presence of one close branch as I passed underneath. Following a heavy rain, the branch got heavier, hung lower and whacked me in the head.
After the third or fourth such incident with the wayward branch, I asked around and found out the name of the homeowner. I called and left a message stating that I was the neighborhood blind guy, that their shrubbery had assaulted me, and would they please do something about it? Several weeks went by and no action was taken, so I followed up with another, stronger, phone message. When winter came, the aggressive branch adopted a regular five-foot nine stance. Most days I was able to duck and miss it. But, every now and then, I’d wind up with another hunk of flesh donated to the Rhododendron God and five more points on my blood pressure reading.
I sent a letter asking the homeowner please to take care of the bush. I even volunteered to help tie the branch up higher, if they needed assistance. Nobody did anything.
One morning, we all got up late because the power had gone out and the alarm clock hadn’t worked. Everybody scrambled to get ready on time. During the frenzy, I knocked a box of cat food on the floor, accidentally poured orange juice on my cereal, and misplaced my left shoe. So I wasn’t feeling particularly loving or charitable. The kids had warned me to duck on the way to school, but the battering bush got me on my return trip. As Popeye used to say, “That’s all I can stands, I can’t stands no more!”
At home, I stuck a wad of toilet paper to the gash in my forehead and grabbed my tree saw. I tapped back down the street with one arm raised protectively in front of me and located the assailant. At first, I started trimming small branches to take weight off the thick bough overhanging the sidewalk, but this was time consuming, and had little effect. So, I went to the major branch, one evil nub still sticky with my blood, and started to saw.
About this time, I heard a car pull into the driveway and stop, not five feet from me. This was a little awkward. While I’m no lawyer, I figured that cutting down a neighbor’s bush was probably illegal. But, the car just sat there idling. I imagine the driver, presumably the homeowner, was frightened by the sight of the angry blind guy, a wad of bloody toilet paper stuck to his forehead, waving a saw around like the villain in a bad horror movie.
I did a quick mental calculation, and figured that if the driver had called the cops on a cell phone, I was already in trouble, so I might as well finish the job. I found where I’d been cutting, completed the amputation, and dragged the limb to the edge of the property. Still no activity from the vehicle, so I picked up my cane, gave them my best Jack Nicholson smile, wished them a good day, and returned home.
I don’t expect to be invited over any time soon for a barbeque, but at least my forehead and hairline will stay intact. Now, if I could only do something about the guy who refuses to shovel his sidewalk….
By Judy Sanders, Secretary
A unique opportunity awaited recipients of the braille agenda for the 2013 semiannual convention of the NFB of Minnesota on May 18. The agenda was in the Unified English Braille code recently adopted by the Braille Authority of North America. Some people have dreaded this change thinking that we will have to learn a completely new system of reading. We discovered that it was very easy to read and most of the changes were obvious.
Thanks to the NFB of Minnesota Senior Division, people enjoyed coffee and doughnuts while waiting for the morning business session to begin. Cell phone carriers and Louis Braille coins were available for purchase.
Seats were at a premium when President Jennifer Dunnam called the convention to order. Matt Langland was on hand to give away door prizes throughout the general session.
Ms. Dunnam reported a successful student seminar earlier in the year. Plans are underway for all of us to work hard and play at our upcoming national convention in Orlando. Blindness: Learning in New Dimensions (BLIND), Incorporated will sponsor another karaoke night and we will staff a table in the exhibit hall where, among other things, we will sell the famous Minnesota Word Scramble. Alex Loch, from Duluth, is to receive an NFB scholarship.
We have a committee that has designed a curriculum for driver’s education classes to teach future drivers about how blind people travel independently and safely. They have also written a brochure for drivers.
Our advocacy for customers at State Services for the Blind (SSB) continues. We also have several members on the State Rehabilitation Council for the Blind and several people serve on Council committees.
Dunnam announced that we are receiving a large bequest from the Jane Rademacher estate. This bequest is in excess of $400,000 and we will be presenting half of it to our national treasury. We want to have in-depth discussion about how best to utilize the rest of the money to strengthen our organization and to be strong advocates for all blind Minnesotans. People were encouraged to offer thoughts about how best to use this gift.
We heard an excerpt from the latest national presidential release that featured Anil Lewis asking for volunteers to help bolster our Imagination Fund, and he told us that our Fair Wages petition has over 2,500 signatures and we are just getting started! This petition objects to a provision of the Fair Labor Standards Act that allows blind and otherwise disabled individuals to receive far less than the Federal minimum wage.
Va’nasha Washington serves as first vice president of our Minnesota Association of Blind Students. She defines “student” as anyone who is learning something. Therefore, she believes that there is a place in the division for all of us. The students are planning a barbecue for the summer students who will be here for training. She asks for our help in finding students who can learn about us. She left the podium to go back to the kitchen where students were preparing our “academic lunch.”
Tom Scanlan, NFB of Minnesota treasurer, reported that we have a profit due to the large bequest mentioned earlier. The convention approved his proposed budget for 2013-2014. More financial information is available on our website: www.nfbmn.org.
E-books have become a popular method of reading in our society — and blind readers are in danger of missing this medium of enjoying books. Steve Jacobson gave us background on this issue. The most blatant abuser of nonvisual access to books is Amazon, producers of the Kindle E-reader. Amazon has the capability to make its products accessible to blind readers, but it bowed to pressure from the Authors Guild who worried that their sales would suffer. It should be noted that we have never asked for free books; we just want to be able to read them through audio format or braille displays. Why focus on Amazon? They are attempting to corner the market in schools and universities throughout the country with e-readers for students, and blind kids are left out. Three Minnesotans joined Federationists from all over the country in Seattle in front of Amazon’s headquarters to express our concerns. While this issue is not resolved, we have made progress. Amazon announced the availability of an app for the iPhone that can be used to read their books. It is not very accessible.
Richard Strong, director of Minnesota State Services for the Blind (SSB), began his remarks by expressing pleasure in speaking to the largest and most active organization of the blind in Minnesota. He acknowledged that while we may not always agree, we have an open dialogue and he appreciates our forthrightness.
He introduced us to several new staff. Carol Pankow is now the head of the Administrative Services Unit and was at our convention. Sandra Wilson is the voice at the front desk and Samantha Fischer is Mr. Strong’s assistant. Following Lyle Lundquist’s retirement, Ed Lecher is the new head of the Senior Services Unit.
Among other matters, Strong reported on the following:
· The Senior Services Unit is exploring ways to serve an ever-growing population with less money. They are working with the Humphrey Institute for ideas.
· The Workforce Development Unit is hopeful of finding 100 blind customers jobs during this fiscal year. As of this convention, they had 38 placements.
· Anil Lewis, the NFB’s lead strategist on our Fair Wages initiative, will be the keynote speaker at SSB’s all-staff meeting in October. He will talk about his experiences as a blind person and will run a small group session about the minimum wage issue.
We asked questions about the employment of blind people on staff. Mr. Strong is anxious to increase the number of blind employees and urged us to continue to get the word out about openings.
Jan Bailey updated us on plans for our Walk for Opportunity. We will have a new, easier route in Rochester with six checkpoints. It was announced that Miss Bailey was appointed to the Board of Governors for the Minnesota State Academy for the Blind.
Helen Stevens gave us an update on legislative initiatives from the U.S. Congress. The Space Available Act would allow disabled veterans to fly on military aircraft if space is available, just as can active-duty and retired personnel. Disabled veterans have never been given this benefit because they are honorably discharged from service and do not retire. As of our convention in May, there were 152 cosponsors in the House including Keith Ellison, Betty McCollum, Tim Walz, Colin Peterson and Eric Paulsen of Minnesota. In the Senate, there are 12 cosponsors but neither Minnesotan had yet joined the list. (Note: Since the convention, Senator Amy Klobuchar has become a cosponsor.)
HR 831, The Fair Wages for Workers with Disabilities Act, will eliminate Section 14C of the Fair Labor Standards Act that allows people with disabilities to be paid subminimum wages. As of the convention, there were 35 cosponsors in the House, with Mr. Ellison as the only Minnesotan on the list. The NFB has designed an online petition that people can sign to show support for this issue. Ms. Stevens was available at lunch to facilitate signing for anyone upon request.
The Technology Education and Accessibility in College and Higher Education Act is still waiting for introduction. This would require colleges and universities to purchase technology that is usable nonvisually.
The convention elected Jennifer Dunnam as the delegate to our national convention with Steve Jacobson as our alternate delegate.
Some of the most inspiring moments at an NFB of Minnesota convention occur when we listen to the students from BLIND, Incorporated. It is a reminder that the philosophy of the National Federation of the Blind is not just words but can make a real difference to the lives of blind people. Shawn Mayo, executive director of BLIND, introduced us to three students who told their stories.
Ms. Mayo began by announcing that the resident students would be moving to 410 6th Street SE in Minneapolis in the fall. This neighborhood has many bus lines available to it and many restaurants and stores.
Juan Solis admitted that he used to be ashamed of being blind; he felt he was a burden to everyone around him. He finally realized that he needed help which was what brought him to BLIND. At first, it was overwhelming — getting up early and having a place to go. But as time passed, he felt empowered with responsibility and self-respect.
Marie Kouthoofd was nearing the end of her training when she spoke to us. She came from New York for her training because she wanted to live a more full life. She found that as she was losing vision she was staying home more; she went to work and then came home. She exemplifies the truth that it is one thing to know intellectually our philosophy but it is quite another thing to live it. She will now be able to go back to her family in New York and hold her head high; she will go to work, and, if she chooses, she will not go straight home. She is a spirited grandma who won’t be held down.
Mark Barlow has joined the BLIND staff as the new industrial arts instructor. He is not blind and new to all this. Mr. Barlow comes from a teaching background where he taught at a so-called nontraditional K-12 fine arts school. While he loved what he did, he felt there was something missing. He found that something when he came to BLIND — it was a school with a mission. He hears the hopes of his students and he imagines how he can help bring those hopes to reality through the development of a strong curriculum. He is proud to be a part of this program.
The tenBroek Fund exists to take care of expenses to maintain the National Center that houses Federation headquarters and the Jernigan Institute in Baltimore. Each year we donate to this fund. The NFB of Minnesota matches individual donations. Members pledged $965, which our state treasury will match.
Ryan Strunk came forward to present an item titled “Out of the Comfort Zone.” Mr. Strunk is studying improvisation at the Brave New Workshop where he “stepped out of his comfort zone.” He wanted to meet new people and try new things. He is learning to express himself with visual actions, and he is pleased to report that his classmates understand what he is doing. He urged us to undertake something that scares us a lot and conquer it.
Dick Davis came to the microphone to promote the sale of Louis Braille coins during lunch. They make fine gifts, and could increase in value. The NFB of Minnesota is selling these at their original prices. Other outlets charge more.
Jean Furney, Hannah Furney’s mom, was available during lunch to display her tactile greeting cards. She was looking for feedback on how we thought they might sell.
After consuming our “academic” lunch, Bob Raisbeck explained the Preauthorized Contribution Plan that enables anyone to donate to the national treasury by automatic regular withdrawal from a checking account. He urged people to start new plans or increase existing ones. This is a relatively painless way to give to our movement.
It was now time for everyone to break into small group sessions. Below is a brief summary of each session, reported by its organizer.
National Association to Promote the Use of Braille (NAPUB) by Melody Wartenbee, president: Recreation was the order of the day for NAPUB. A newly brailled game of “Apples to Apples” entertained all participants. No winner was announced.
Social Justice in the Federation by Jennifer Dunnam: The National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota is a member of Community Shares of Minnesota (CSM), a network of organizations that connect, fund and raise awareness for community groups fighting for fairness and equality. Community Shares is unique in that its member organizations focus on social justice, which is the addressing of the root causes of social problems rather than just working to alleviate the symptoms. Federationists know that working to deal with the causes of discrimination, low expectations, and other problems associated with blindness has been integral to our purpose since our founding. Members of Community Shares are required to conduct periodic assessments of their social justice work to ensure that the organization remains a good fit with CSM.
As part of our assessment this year, we devoted one of our afternoon sessions at the semiannual convention to discussion to identify and clarify the social justice aspects of who we are, what we do, and how we do our work. A reflective group of members gathered to discuss big-picture questions such as: “what things are absolutely essential for us to have in order to be who we are and to do what we do?” and “what would the world look like if the work of the National Federation of the Blind was all done?” We also spent time brainstorming about future resources and specific activities to enhance our work. Thoughts on the answers to these questions from the session (or at any other time, for that matter) will help us to ensure that our focus is where it needs to be in order to reach our goal of the complete integration of blind people into society.
Senior Division by Joyce Scanlan, president: Senior division members met in the NFB conference room of our building. Mr. Ed Letcher, the new SSB Director of Senior Services, spoke of his goals for providing quality services to older blind Minnesotans. Everyone was pleased to hear that Mr. Letcher seemed to support the group model of serving the population for which he is responsible. The group model has a fine record of success in this state. An extensive discussion period followed.
We spent our remaining time in demonstrating and passing around several items of adaptive equipment of interest to seniors. Many devices are used by Jan Bailey in her teaching business and were helpful in confirming the belief that we share that independence and a good life can go on after loss of eyesight occurs.
Several members remained to engage in casual and friendly conversation following adjournment.
iPhone Seminar by Sharon Monthei: A seminar on iOS devices was led by Charlotte Czarnecki, Chris Foster, and Sharon Monthei. We discussed the types of apps available, including the relative advantages of the iPhone and iPad. There was great interest in this topic, some by iPhone users and some by people wanting to purchase an iOS device. A list of accessible apps was available in braille to help people get a further idea of possible apps. It included transit, GPS, reference, music, radio, and book apps.
Technology Fair by Steve Jacobson: After completing our work, we held an exhibit of various technologies. People were able to get hands-on experience with braille note-takers, braille displays, iPads, iPhones, Android tablets, Victor Reader Stream and BookSense readers, and several laptops. There was a good deal of interest in various keyboard options for iPhones and iPads. Many felt that this was a very worthwhile activity that could have been extended another hour.
The day closed with a very efficient cleanup crew who put the building back in order.
By Gail Rosenblum
(Editor’s Note: This article appeared in the July 15, 2013 issue of the Star Tribune. As well as being an instructor at Blindness: Learning in New Dimensions (BLIND), Inc., Emily is a member of the NFB of Minnesota Metro Chapter.)
Emily Wharton’s epiphany came in college, as she faced a roomful of listeners at a coffeehouse poetry reading.
All her life, Wharton quietly compensated for her declining eyesight. She wore big, thick glasses and hovered over textbooks into the wee hours so that she could graduate from high school and attend Drake University, where she majored in English literature.
But there she was, about to recite her poem, and someone dimmed the lights. Wharton could no longer see her writing. Finally, a friend flipped a switch so she could perform, but she knew something had to change.
“Forget this,” she decided. “I have to learn Braille.”
She did that, and more. Turns out the poet also writes pretty good Braille curriculum.
Wharton, 37, is the 2013 recipient of the A Touch of Genius Award by the National Braille Press, and the Dr. Jacob Bolotin Award by the National Federation of the Blind. Bolotin was the first blind doctor, born in 1888.
The two awards, announced in June and July, carry gifts of $10,000 and $15,000, respectively. But those who work with Wharton, curriculum and technology coordinator at BLIND Inc., in Minneapolis, say the biggest winners are thousands of people whose lives will open up thanks to Wharton’s “Code Master” system of Braille instruction.
The revolutionary system, they say, makes Braille easy and quick to learn, no matter one’s age or aptitude.
“The impact has been incredible,” said Dick Davis, assistant director of BLIND Inc., a not-for-profit life-skills training center working with people of all ages.
“We had people who had been laboring and — boom — in six weeks, they were learning Braille. Even people who struggled with literacy were learning fast.”
Suddenly, clients were able to check baseball scores, organize their kitchen pantries with Braille labeling or read books to their children.
“She took a risk,” Shawn Mayo, BLIND Inc.’s executive director, added, noting that Wharton’s efforts are receiving national and international attention. New Mexico, Colorado and Louisiana have requested more information about her curriculum. The Royal National Institute for the Blind did a podcast with her.
About 1.4 million Americans are legally blind, including up to 40,000 Minnesotans. Yet, Mayo said, “Braille teaching methods haven’t changed much in the last 100 years. That says a lot.”
That lack of innovation is likely why Braille has fallen out of favor with teachers of blind students over the past many decades. Just 10 percent of legally blind kindergartners through high school seniors are taught Braille nationwide today, Davis said, compared to upwards of 60 percent in the 1960s.
The dramatic shift away from Braille instruction toward audio learning is due, he said, to stubborn misconceptions, including that it is too difficult to learn, unnecessary in the age of technology, and that communication by speech alone can suffice.
“None of those things are true,” Wharton said. “Braille is extremely practical, with such a range of uses. I just love reading books in Braille.”
After college, Wharton began to learn Braille the old-fashioned way, but it was slow-going and cumbersome. There had to be a better way.
“It’s a system,” Wharton realized. “Hey, I like systems.’ ”
In 2009, she began developing a Braille textbook, which incorporated memorization, writing and touch, as well as several routes to learning: an audio CD for aural learners, for example, and charts for visual learners. A year later, she offered her first class at BLIND Inc., integrating Braille and technology, the latter which has opened up the world to Braille users.
On students’ first day, they learn the first 10 letters of the alphabet, “then we drill the heck out of ’em,” Wharton said. They move from there to the rest of the alphabet, then to numbers, basic punctuation, contractions and more.
She’s taught the system to more than 100 students, from age 18 to 60. Marie Kouthoofd, 47, of Oswego, New York, is one.
She flew to Minneapolis last fall specifically to learn with Wharton at BLIND Inc. A psychology professor, she has a degenerative eye disease and tried, unsuccessfully, to learn Braille 20 years ago when the process took a minimum of six months to a year.
“It didn’t go well,” Kouthoofd said. “You get the book, put your fingers on the dots. I got nauseated when I’d sit down and try.”
Wharton’s Code Master system was a revelation. A visual learner, Kouthoofd said, “I could see the code in my head.”
Now she uses Braille to read Dr. Seuss books to her grandson. With Braille labeling, “I can use my stove again, my dishwasher, my microwave.” She’s labeling her pantry cans, too.
“I’m like a kid in a candy store,” she said, “because I can read again.”
This is exactly what Wharton had in mind. She calls it having a good “Braillitude.”
“It’s just about being really positive and energetic. Braille’s not hard unless you make it hard.”
© 2013 Star Tribune
Exciting times are coming in NFB conventions. Keep these in mind as you plan your activities throughout the coming year.
The Annual NFB of Minnesota Convention is October 25-27 in Bloomington. Members received a letter with details, and the letter is on our website at www.nfbmn.org.
The Semiannual NFB of Minnesota Convention will be in May 2014 at the NFB of Minnesota building in Minneapolis. Members will receive a letter with details, and the letter will be on our website at www.nfbmn.org.
The National NFB Convention will be the first week of July 2014 in Orlando, Florida. This is nearly a week of friends, fun, and serious business. It is a chance to be part of the largest gathering of blind people in the world. The full convention bulletin will be in the Braille Monitor, and in the Upcoming Events section of the www.nfb.orgwebsite.
Metro Chapter — Twin Cities area; meets at 10:00 a.m. on the third Saturday of every month at NFB of MN Headquarters, 100 East 22nd Street in Minneapolis
Riverbend Chapter — New Ulm area; meets at 9:00 a.m. on the third Saturday of every month in New Ulm; contact Monica Buboltz at 507-354-5680 for meeting location
Rochester Chapter — Rochester area; meets at 7:00 p.m. on the fourth Tuesday of every month at Peace United Church of Christ in Rochester
Central Minnesota Chapter — St. Cloud area; meets at 12:30 on the second Saturday of every month at the American Legion in Waite Park
Braille Club — Any National Federation of the Blind member who uses braille is invited to attend. This group meets on the first, second, and third non-holiday Mondays of the month from 4:30-6:30. Its purpose is to improve braille skills and get better acquainted with other NFB braille users. Attendees bring their own book or magazine or borrow one. Contact Melody Wartenbee at 612-870-9484 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Activities for youth — Several times a year, the National
Federation of the Blind of Minnesota holds
educational/recreational activities for blind youth. These
activities provide opportunities for the youth to learn new
skills, to connect with one another and with confident,
well-adjusted adult blind role models, and to have fun while
doing so. Meetings and other activities for parents
also take place in conjunction with these events. For more information, contact Charlene Guggisberg at 507-351-5413 or e-mail email@example.com
The purpose of the National Federation of the Blind is two-fold — to help blind persons achieve self-confidence and self-respect and to act as a vehicle for collective self-expression by the blind. By providing public education about blindness, information and referral services, scholarships, literature and publications about blindness, aids and appliances and other adaptive equipment for the blind, advocacy services and protection of civil rights, development and evaluation of technology, and support for blind persons and their families, members of the NFB strive to educate the public that the blind are normal individuals who can compete on terms of equality.
No one understands blindness as well as those who live with it daily. To apply this knowledge to solving the problems of blindness, blind people formed the National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota (NFBM). NFBM is the state's largest and oldest organization of the blind. It provides self-help programs for blind people of all ages and activities.
As blind people, we know the loss of eyesight is not the major problem of blindness. The real problem is the misunderstandings that surround blindness. The NFBM overcomes this problem through education of the sighted to the reality of blindness and through mutual help among blind people. Such activities make blind people fully‑participating members of society. They earn their living, raise families, and take full responsibility for their own lives.
The NFBM began in 1920 as the Minnesota State Organization of the Blind. It is a membership organization open to everyone who believes in the capability of blind people to help himself or herself become full participants in the community.
In 1940, Minnesota and six other states founded the National Federation of the Blind (NFB). Today, the NFB numbers over 50,000 blind people. It has organizations in every state, and local chapters in almost every sizable community.
During these many years, we have made strong progress toward equality. We have improved employment opportunities and education for blind persons in the state of Minnesota and in the nation.
Most of our members are blind, and their knowledge of blindness comes from their personal lives. Other organizations get their information on blindness through the reading of textbooks or other secondhand techniques.
For a complete listing of the NFB of Minnesota board of directors, visit www.nfbmn.org/board.html.
There are several ways to keep up with, as well as interact with, the most active group of blind people in Minnesota
· Join the discussion list for Minnesota on NFBNET at www.nfbnet.org/mailman/listinfo/minnesota-talk_NFBNET.ORG
· Follow @nfbmn on Twitter at twitter.com/nfbmn
· Like us on Facebook by searching for National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota at www.facebook.com/
Many people are involved in getting this issue to you. The writers can write and the editor can edit, but until the material is printed, brailled, recorded, and distributed, it is just a computer file. Therefore, we owe great thanks to the following people for the work they do in producing this publication.
· Judy Sanders proofreads and provides corrections for both the print and braille editions.
· Sharon Monthei makes corrections to the braille and print editions and transcribes the braille edition.
· Art Hadley reads the audio edition for cassette tape and Compact Disc.
· Tim Aune duplicates the cassette tape edition and makes the master copy for the Compact Disc edition.
· Dave Andrews marks up and posts the NFB-NEWSLINE® edition.
· Tom Scanlan marks up and posts the website edition.
· Sid Starnes deals with the printer for the print edition, mails the print edition and other tasks as needed.
· Emily Zitek embosses and collates the copies for the braille edition and mails the braille and audio editions.